"An animal's eyes have the power to speak a great language." ~Martin Buber (Israeli philosopher, 1878-1965)
People are funny that way. They can be highly educated, possibly with a PhD or some form of alphabet soup after their name. Flash a kitty GIF in front of them, or put a new puppy in their arms, and their language goes the way of someone who sounds like they just got a root canal.
They end up speaking the animal's language, which isn't a bad thing because cuteness.
Google probably understands that aspect of human vernacular better than most. The magic animals possess when it comes to understanding how humans can haz speaking, or something like that.
This may be why their most important algorithms -- the ones responsible for every necessary aspect of content strategy and digital search -- are named after animals.
Why lovable animals? A few reasons, such as 1.) they are easy to remember, 2.) they follow a theme so it stands out, and 3.) because it sounds much better than "Algorithm X-198376-ggl-98188-3.
This is why there is probably a petting area with slides, bounce houses, and other rainbow-colored pieces of non-stick outdoor furniture on Google's palatial estate in Mountain View, Calif. This novelty fun zone is known affectionately as "The Google Zoo" among content, digital and SEO strategists around the world.
Why bring it up? Because if you write for anything that is going online, you need tickets, grab a bucket of chum, and make nice with those furry little friends pronto. Need a summary of the Google Zoo? Consider this your admission:
Digital ne'er-do-wells used to own the Internet. Its every dank recess was populated by a few of these black-hat SEO hackers proliferating search capabilities from their Mom's basement (and the 'Star Trek' theme blaring on Bose speakers).
In 2011, Google determined it was time to take their ball and go home to determine how they could help everyone play the search game. This unnamed "farmer" algorithm was designed to assist "high-quality sites" get more love via search engines and, subsequently, demote sites that may be of lower quality. This term was typically associated with content farms, a network of websites that churns out large amounts of inexpensive, poorly written (and often lifted) content specifically designed to generate search engine traffic, which then helps increase advertising value.
Eventually, as legend has it, this content friendly algorithm was named after one of its creators, Navneet Panda. (Yeah, not the cute bear.) So, content schleps of any kind -- thin (no value), duplicate (nothing original) or poor quality (no clue) -- this bear's for you.
A year later, those same underdeveloped lost souls of the Web realize that Google discovered how to read content like a human. What was next? You know when you used to read "click here for fun" on many websites? That inviting hue of Smurf blue in the link hidden in the "anchor text" was almost mesmerizing. People...had...to...look. And then when they did, it was virus time.
The Promised Land for any website is from inbound marketing when some credible news or information website mentions a great online destination and offers the link to your website. Consider those "backlinks" (as in "go back to this link") as a like or a vote about your content. This is why we can't have nice things because people used to create fake links all over their poor quality websites.
If an ant crawls on your foot and bites you, it gets smacked and you grab the lotion. If you step in an anthill, your feet become swiss cheese and you grab the keys to drive to the emergency room. The poor little things can make a big difference; hence, fake links creating an army of directional challenges for the Web. This is why we met the Penguin.
Have you ever heard that most penguins mate for life? Maybe it's because pickings are slim in the Nordics. Perhaps the male penguins realized shopping for some of those females isn't worth the drama. Whatever the case, it's clear that penguins don't like the fake stuff. Case in point: Google Penguin obliterates spam tactics like keyword stuffing, spamdexing, and unnatural links. Been on any stuffy, unnatural dates lately?
When you think of a hummingbird, what comes to mind? Fast? Quick, fluttering wings? How the hell should I know because I've never seen one? Whatever the notion, that's what this algorithm was meant to conjure -- make the Web faster for user experience.
In August 2013, Hummingbird was arguably the most powerful algorithmic change Google has ever done. It impacts about 90% of all searches for one reason -- words. For years, people thought the math behind content and keywords were most important, which is why the words you read were beginning to read like a robot wrote them. And because math can suck at times, Google decided it was time to remember the humans.
People type questions in the search bar. They need answers. Often, words mean different things or are spelled different ways. Google want to be more than the search police; it wanted to become the search savants. How could Google offer answers while protecting the universe from digital Darwinists who want to take advantage of the least of these? Then the multicolored mavens caught a microscopic idea.
This is called "semantic search," which is why Hummingbird was an overhaul of the Google algorithm and it's zoo partners were just a completely different animal in terms of specifics (sorry) but one you definitely need to catch (yeah, couldn't help it).
In July 2014, brands wanted to figure out how they could really take advantage of these questions, content, and links brought up online. Everyone wants love so why not the big brands too? These places of pleasure -- from restaurants to roller rinks -- make the world go 'round. And those answers people seek? It's usually from a question like "Where do I find the closest hamburger joint?"
And so the carrier bird known for delivering messages of locations was born in Google.
These location cues were created as meta descriptions and tags that the search engines used to help users search for those locations. Pigeon was, as Moz puts it, the scientific method that "created closer ties between the local algorithm and core algorithm(s)."
In other words, when you want to find that one coffee shop around the corner from your place but can't quite remember how to get there, Pigeon allows you to know that information without giving you other coffee shops across town or in another one. You're welcome.
While Google Pigeon helped users find many businesses, there were others that just didn't hold the brand equity to be easily noticed by the Web. Possibly ubiquitous 'mom and pop' shops or other small businesses that offer trades but have a lackluster digital presence. Places that like were easily found but "playing possum" online. (Yes, that's how the name was given.)
Again, the fear that spam was at play and so, an algorithm had to be to the rescue for Google Maps to help the user find everything within a certain radius of their smartphone. In short, Google Maps gave users the ability to seriously hone in on local search, as if, taking a drive around the block wouldn't help said user.
Possum allowed your address to really matter to the Web. Without people are just searching "local mattress shops" during those Presidents Day festivities. Today with Possum, your location when you apply the search matters as much as the brand's location as the subject of the search. If you live in a suburb of a metropolitan area, now your business matters to that area (whether the locals know it or not).
Aside from the Zoo, there are the regular guests known as RankBrain, Mobilegeddon, Phantom, and even the random peg-legged Pirate. However, all patrons of the Google Zoo are there to feed the animals and let them roam free. Sound fun? If you are one of the self-dubbed gurus, ninjas, and geniuses of SEO, it should.
You know, despite the allergies.